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A Rash Can Be a Symptom of Breast Cancer

11/02/2021

Here Are the Top Signs to Look Out for if You’re Worried You Have One, and When to See a Doctor

When it comes to red flags around breast cancer, most women know that feeling a new lump in your breast is a reason to seek medical attention immediately. But as it turns out, a rash is also something to be mindful of. This is due to the fact that some breast cancers are inflammatory and manifest in the form of a breast cancer rash.

As with any cancer or disease, early detection is important—and many forms of breast cancer are treatable if they’re caught early enough. Here’s everything you need to know about a breast cancer rash from symptoms of a breast infection to diagnosing a rash.

What is a breast cancer rash?

“When we think about skin changes associated with breast cancer it could be because the cancer is either invading or growing through the skin or inflammatory breast cancer,” Dr. Michele Ley, MD, FACS, a breast surgical oncologist at Arizona Oncology, explains. “There are other skin conditions that can occur on the breast just as they can occur elsewhere in the body like psoriasis, eczema, or dermatitis.” 

However, those usually have a different appearance than those associated with cancer. These skin conditions often have a texture to them like bumps or roughness, Dr. Ley adds. In general, inflammatory breast cancer does not have these.

“Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, but serious form of breast cancer that can present as a rash with or without breast swelling and a breast mass,” says Dr. Mitchell Gross, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the Research Director of the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine.

Related: 5 Myths About Breast Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of a breast infection

A rash could be a symptom of a breast infection, too. “Bacterial breast infections typically involve the fatty tissue in the breast,” Dr. Ley states. “Swelling, localized pain, redness, and fever are the most common symptoms of a bacterial infection. Idiopathic granulomatous mastitis and Inflammatory breast cancer may mimic breast infection.”

Inflammatory breast cancer must be distinguished from a benign breast infection known as mastitis.  

“Mastitis most commonly occurs in breastfeeding women, but may occasionally occur in women that are not breastfeeding,” Dr. Gross states. “It is often associated with warm and reddened skin around the nipple and may also be associated with thick white and foul-smelling (‘pus like’) nipple discharge.”

Mastitis is often managed with steps to reduce pain and swelling such as over-the-counter painkillers and hot compresses. If an infection is suspected, then antibiotics can be used as well, Dr. Gross adds.

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